Are We Still Healthy in Hard Times? Revisiting the Relationship between Employment Conditions and Smoking

Shelley Golden, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of mortality in the United States. Previous research on the impact of labor market cycles on smoking suggests that when state employment rates decline, smoking rates fall. These studies, however, assume the impact of a change in employment conditions on smoking is consistent, regardless of the strength of the economy in which the change occurs. I match state unemployment data from 1996-2010, when the country experienced periods of both strong growth and severe recession, with reports of smoking behavior from participants in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System during the same period. Regression analyses confirm previously established procyclical smoking patterns, but also indicate that these relationships are attenuated in poor labor markets. Further analyses suggest that this attenuation may be due to a curvilinear relationship between unemployment rates and emotional distress that triggers increased smoking in hard times.

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Presented in Session 38: Changing Economic Conditions: Effects on Health